Damning investigation uncovers 'toxic culture' at mental health hospital

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Staff working at one of Britain’s biggest mental health hospitals pinched, taunted and even slapped patients, a damning investigation has revealed.

A ‘toxic culture’ at Edenfield Centre in Prestwich, Bury, has seen nurses humiliate vulnerable people suffering with schizophrenia, autism and other conditions.

An undercover reporter for BBC Panorama, who spent three months working there, witnessed staff swearing at patients, inappropriately restraining and even behaving sexually towards them. 

Patients at the hospital are held under the Mental Health Act and are deemed at serious risk of harming themselves or others. Some of them have committed crimes, including murder.

Whistle-blowers had claimed staff were behaving poorly and infringing the safety of people living at the institution, which prompted the secret probe.

Police have now opened an investigation into the hospital, which has a capacity for 150 patients, after being shown the harrowing footage. Officers looking through the evidence said anyone caught committing a crime will be prosecuted.

The investigation, set to air tonight, showed nurses swearing at patients, calling one who was suicidal a ‘fat c***’ and joking about her slitting her own throat.

Patients were kept in tiny seclusion rooms designed for short-term isolation, some of which smelled of sewage and were mouldy, for months at a time. 

Experts said the staff behaviour was dangerous and ‘really concerning’, adding they acted ‘like a gang, not a group of health care professionals’.

A 'toxic culture' at Edenfield Centre near Manchester (pictured) has seen nurses humiliate vulnerable people suffering with mental illnesses

A ‘toxic culture’ at Edenfield Centre near Manchester (pictured) has seen nurses humiliate vulnerable people suffering with mental illnesses

Professor John Baker, chair of mental health nursing at the University of Leeds, said the staff behaviour was dangerous and 'really concerning'

Professor John Baker, chair of mental health nursing at the University of Leeds, said the staff behaviour was dangerous and ‘really concerning’

WHAT IS BEING SECTIONED AND WHY DOES IT HAPPEN? 

Being sectioned means being admitted to hospital whether or not you agree to it. 

The legal authority for your admission to hospital comes from the Mental Health Act rather than from your consent. This is usually because you are unable or unwilling to consent.

The term ‘sectioned’ just means using a ‘section’ or paragraph from the Mental Health Act as the authority for your detention. 

A better word is ‘detained’. You are detained under the Mental Health Act. The paragraph or ‘section’ number is often used so a patient may be told they are on a section 2 or section 3.

You may be detained if you have, or are thought to have, a mental illness which needs assessment or treatment which is sufficiently serious that it is necessary for:

  • your health or safety, or
  • for the protection of other people 
  • and you need to be in hospital to have the assessment or treatment
  • and you are unable or unwilling to agree to admission. 

The decision is usually made by two doctors and an Approved Mental Health Professional (AMHP). One of the doctors must be specially certified as having particular experience in the assessment or treatment of mental illness.

Source: Royal College of Psychiatrists

 

Professor John Baker, chair of mental health nursing at the University of Leeds, said: ‘It doesn’t feel safe. 

‘I think you are quite clearly seeing toxic staff and there has been an awful lot of hostility towards patients, which is really concerning.’ 

One patient suffering schizophrenia was verbally abused while being supervised going to the toilet for her own safety, the investigation showed.

A staff member complained to her face about ‘having to look at your a***h*** where biohazard f*****g waste comes out’.

Later, she was filmed pulling aside the patient’s clothing and slapping her bare skin while a senior nurse laughed and jeered. 

When the patient hid under a blanket because it was time for her weekly injection, staff members dragged her by the wrists into a room down the corridor.

They called her a ‘cheeky b***’ as they held her down and jabbed her, before locking her in the room and laughing from behind the door.

The staff told her they would leave her there for an hour but let her out a few moments later.

Dr Cleo Van Velsen, a consultant psychiatrist, told Panorama the behaviour was ‘against any policy I’ve ever seen about restraint in doing this’.

Physical restraint should only be used to prevent patients harming themselves or others, according to the Mental Health Act code of practice.

Another patient with autism was picked up by eight staff and dragged away screaming into one of the seclusion rooms.

She was kept in the bare room without any possessions, fresh air or access to the outdoors for more than two weeks. 

One of the nurses was filmed saying they wanted to keep her in seclusion because staff ‘needed a break from her’.

Dr Van Velsen said: ‘You cannot deprive somebody of their liberties because staff are fed up of her.’ 

Another patient was kept in one of the rooms for more than a year, a nurse said. 

Meanwhile, Olivia, a patient who self harms and had repeatedly tried to kill herself, was ignored by nurses while she was crying.

Staff members joked if she slit her throat you’d know it’ because ‘she’d tell everybody about it’.

They also mocked her about her weight, despite previously having stopped eating and drinking because she believed she was overweight. 

Police have now opened investigations into the cruel behaviour on show. Several staff have already been suspended.

Greater Manchester Police’s chief superintendent Michaela Kerr said: ‘It goes without saying that these allegations are concerning. 

‘Since they were brought to our attention, we have been working with partner agencies to ensure the safeguarding of vulnerable individuals.

‘We’ve also obtained the information required to open criminal investigations and enquiries are ongoing to ensure all offences are recorded and those involved identified.

‘In consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service, we are reviewing footage from Panorama with a view to prosecuting anyone who’s captured committing a crime.’ 

Patients were kept in tiny seclusion rooms designed for short-term isolation, some of which smelled of sewage and were mouldy, for months at a time

Patients were kept in tiny seclusion rooms designed for short-term isolation, some of which smelled of sewage and were mouldy, for months at a time

Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust (GMMH) said it has taken the allegations ‘very seriously’.

A statement said: ‘We would like to reassure patients, carers, staff, and the public that we are taking the matters raised very seriously.

‘We have put in place immediate actions to protect patient safety, which is our utmost priority.

‘Since then, senior doctors at the Trust have undertaken clinical reviews of the patients affected, we have suspended a number of staff pending further investigations and we have also commissioned an independent clinical review of the services provided at the Edenfield Centre.

‘We are working closely with local and national partners including NHS England, the Care Quality Commission and Greater Manchester Police to ensure the safety of these services. We will co-operate fully with all investigations.

‘We owe it to our patients, their families and carers, the public and our staff that these allegations are fully investigated to ensure we provide the best care, every day, for all the communities we serve.’

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